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Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Alonzo King's Ballet Beast: Unworldly Movements Take the Stage

Posted By on Wed, May 21, 2014 at 8:00 AM

Alonzo King LINES Ballet's Meredith Webster and David Harvey - RJ MUNA
  • RJ Muna
  • Alonzo King LINES Ballet's Meredith Webster and David Harvey

If you've seen Alonzo King LINES Ballet perform before, you know what to expect: human beasts taking to the stage to tackle choreography that is as tricky as it is cutting edge. It's a place where impossibly long-legged performers move with a prowess that is usually reserved for supermodels or jungle cats.

I guess it's a little animalistic," says Babatunji Johnson, one of the company's dancers.

LINES Ballet, which forgoes the hierarchy system of a traditional company, uses each of the 11 dancers as if they were all soloists. And in a troupe so small, there is little room to hide, and what's more, it's completely discouraged.

Rehearsals for new works take as much guts from the dancers as from King himself. The artists work together, taking movements that start out balletic, and transforming them into something unworldly.

"He wants us to take phrases and tweak them," explains Johnson. "He's really big on making it so that the movement is very clear, but not recognizable -- you can't categorize it in any way."

This collaboration with the dancers sets King's work about from others in the dance world, where many choreographers adopt more of a "monkey see, monkey do" mentality. It's not uncommon for a choreographer to set steps in stone -- once a work is created, that's it. In King's company the dancers are an enormous part of the creative process -- their ideas contributing greatly to the end product.

"I feel like I have a lot of say in what happens and what I do," says Johnson.

King has been refining this version of artistic teamwork since the early '80s when LINES was formed. Audiences can see the progression of his work throughout the past decade in the company's spring season program, which features the world premiere of, "The Steady Heart," along with excerpts from three of King's past ballets, "The Radius of Converge," "Koto," and "Klang," created in 2008, 2002, and 1995, respectively.

Alonzo King LINES Ballet presents its Spring Home Season on May 21 at 5:30 p.m. and continues through the 25 at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (701 Mission). Tickets are $30-$65 at

For events in San Francisco this week and beyond, check out our calendar section. Follow us on Twitter at @ExhibitionistSF, Laura Jaye Cramer at @laurajayecramer, and like us on Facebook.

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